Like the lies about a stolen election or a “peaceful” Jan. 6 protest at the Capitol, the political right won’t let go of the 2016 Trump-Russian connection: It was a Democratic hoax, they say.
This canard picked up steam with a couple indictments from special prosecutor John DurhamJohn DurhamClose to million spent in Durham investigation in first year Four questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE, tapped more than two years ago by Trump's attorney general to probe any questions about the origins of the scandal. He has produced pretty small stuff, though it has discredited some FBI behavior as well as some hyped media stories. The Washington Post corrected and removed portions of two stories it ran in 2017 based on what turned out to be a phony intelligence source.
The real hoax, however, is that the Trump scandal is a hoax.
The Russians actively sought to help Trump win the presidency, and the candidate and his campaign knew it. The ties were deep.
The right-wing revisionists focus on the mistakes or unverified charges in the Steele Dossier, compiled by a British intelligence official and mainly financed by the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE campaign.
The dossier “was irrelevant in terms of what we were doing. There's a very public record on that,” says Andrew Weissmann, a top counsel in Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE's independent investigation of Russia and Trump.
You expect the counter narrative from Fox News and Trumpites. But it has spread.
Most of the reporting on this scandal in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker and other major venues was well-sourced and accurate.
There were a few exceptions related to the Steele Dossier.
Nevertheless, Axios wrote that the reporting “is one of the most egregious journalistic errors in modern history.” Really? Up there with the New York Times erroneous stories on Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction that helped lead to the disastrous Iraq War? Or with the Chicago Tribune story, during the World War II battle of Midway, making clear the the U.S. had broken Japanese code?
There were indefensibly sloppy stories about the dossier by top news organizations and from liberal outlets like MSNBC's evening fare. As Columbia University journalism professor and former Wall Street Journal editor Bill Grueskin wrote, there was ample cause for the investigative pieces on Trump and Russia, but the ill-sourced bad ones have given the media a black eye, which outlets should acknowledge, as the Post did.
There were FBI misdeeds. Bret Stephens, a conservative New York Times columnist, was so offended by some FBI behavior that he wrote Trump’s “best move as president may have been to fire” FBI director Jim Comey.
“The only reason Trump fired him,” reminds Weismann, “was Comey wouldn't drop the (Russian) investigation or go easy on Mike Flynn,” Trump's national security adviser who later pleaded guilty. This wasn't about civil liberties.
A few FBI agents engaged in misdeeds; an FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to doctoring an email. This isn't new. FBI duplicity helped send two innocent men to prison in the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Malcolm X. I once asked Oscar Goodman, who before serving as mayor of Las Vegas, was a successful mob lawyer, how he got off scoundrels: Simple, he replied, “FBI abuse.”
Not only was the Steele dossier irrelevant to the Mueller investigation, it drew sharp criticism from the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, which outlined substantial Russian interference in the election and found extensive contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
With the revisionists hard at work, its worth stating for the umpteenth time: The Mueller report did not clear Trump.
It does not exonerate the president.
While it couldn't prove clear collusion, it cited the numerous links between the Russians and Trump. The reason Mueller didn't bring an obstruction charge was an earlier Justice Department edict that a sitting president couldn't be indicted.
What was revealed by Mueller and the other investigations: Trump campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortUS sanctions four Ukrainians for aiding Russian influence operations Manafort book set for August publication Accused spy's lawyers say plans to leave country were over Trump, not arrest MORE shared private internal campaign information with a Russian intelligence official; the top Trump campaign command, including his son, met with Russian officials who promised to provide “dirt” on Clinton; Flynn, Trump's national security guy, had questionable contacts with the Russians.
For any doubters, consider Oct. 7, 2016, a month before the election. The Obama administration officially accused the Russians of meddling in the election, then the Washington Post revealed the Access Hollywood tape of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women.
It was a bad day for the Republican. Miraculously, an hour later, the Russian-directed Wikileaks began tweeting links to hacked Clinton campaign private emails.
Trump dirty trickster Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneOath Keeper charges renew attention on Trump orbit Democrats differ over how Biden should handle Jan. 6 anniversary Alex Jones suing Pelosi and Jan. 6 panel, planning to plead the Fifth MORE had forecast this a short time earlier. The Senate Intelligence Committee report said despite denials, it was clear that Stone and Trump had spoken.
Mueller obtained indictments or got guilty pleas from six Trump officials, including Manafort, Stone, Flynn, and 26 Russians. The Trump Republicans have been counting on a counter from the Durham investigation. So far, in more time than Mueller spent, it looks weak.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.